Optimizing the Virtual Spectator Experience

Offering friends and family of runners a way to watch virtually helps limit crowds.
min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how race and event organizers are approaching their events in a major way. Whether that’s postponing it to later in the year, opting instead for a virtual event or rolling over the event to next year, the entire industry has faced some tough decisions, and will likely to continue facing these decisions for the foreseeable future.  

But with these hardships comes opportunity. Now is the perfect time to rethink existing strategies and streamline our events from the ground up—making them not only more efficient, but safer for everyone involved.

If you haven’t yet checked it out, our Safety Tips for Future Races blog is a great place to start. Among other points, once restrictions are lifted and physical events can be held again, we noted these events will possibly be without spectator crowds to reduce gathering numbers.  

Offering a virtual spectator experience (live stream) gives friends and loved ones the chance to watch their athletes compete, while boosting race revenue for race directors.  

Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up a live stream of your event or race.  

These best practices are ever changing, so it’s best to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website (click here for their Gatherings and Community Events page) for updates.

Choose Your Platform

With so many platforms available on the market, live streaming an event is easier than ever before. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Vimeo (to name a few of the major players) all offer live video streaming, so take a look at each of their features and decide what’s best for your brand. This decision could be based on something as straightforward as how familiar you are with the platform already, or if you have existing followers/engagement on one platform versus the other.

Remember, you can always stream on more than one platform to make it easier for your spectators to tune in. Consider giving your virtual spectators the ability to stream the finish line from one platform (for example, YouTube), and a key area of the race on another (Instagram).  

The Equipment

Before you get started, determine what production value you’re looking for. If you’re a smaller event with limited resources, a simple iPhone mounted to a tripod that streams to your Facebook page might be all you need.

If you’re looking for something with better video and audio quality, you’ll need to consider additional cameras and microphones—and with this requires everything from lights and tripods to extra batteries and tape. Don’t forget if you go this route you’ll need someone (or a few people) to manage the live streams throughout the event.

Share With Participants

As you begin to notify your athletes and participants on the details surrounding your race or event, be sure to include instructions (likely a dedicated e-blast and social post) on how their friends and family can watch the event.

This should include a link(s) to where the live video stream(s) will be hosted, the time it will start, troubleshooting tips, what to expect, how to host a watch party, etc. Despite being a now somewhat ubiquitous technology, it’s still new to some, so expect to field questions for spectators having issues on their end.

Connect With Sponsors

Hosting a virtual spectator experience is a great way to expand your event’s reach beyond those at the physical event—you’ll have friends and family watching from across the country.

With this, connect with your sponsors to discuss ways to provide additional value around the live stream. This might include naming a sponsor as a title sponsor of the live stream, placing sponsor signage within the view of the camera for the duration of the event, including a sponsor as a guest during the live stream or hosting a separate race expo “walk-through” stream that features some of their new products. 

Test, Test, Test

There’s nothing more frustrating than when technology fails at the most inopportune time. When it comes to live streaming a virtual spectator experience, always test your setup in the weeks leading into the race so you can buy gear or adjust as needed. Also, run a mock setup the night before, and start the livestream with time to spare the morning of the event to make sure things are running properly (this also gives your spectators time to find the stream and join before the event starts).

As always, have a “Plan B” in case things don’t work out. Have the app installed (and logged in) on a smartphone to use as backup—sometimes this simplest solutions work the best.

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May 26, 2020
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